The Zondo commission has heard how Eskom considered halting coal fines worth over R500 million which were imposed on Tegeta's Optimum coal mine. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - The Zondo commission has heard how Eskom considered halting coal fines worth over R500 million which were imposed on Tegeta's Optimum coal mine as this would have hurt Tegeta's business and place the risk on Eskom.

The commission on Friday heard from Eskom coal manager Gert Opperman who admitted to the inquiry that it seemed like Eskom's interaction with Optimum coal under Tegeta was different. It differed from the power utility's interaction with the same mine while it was owned by mining giant Glencore. 

Glencore sold Optimum Holdings to Gupta linked Tegeta in late 2015 after it was slapped with coal fines worth over R2 billion. Glencore had to place Optimum under business rescue when then Eskom CEO Brian Molefe refused to renegotiate the coal supply agreement between Eskom and Glencore. 

Former Glencore CEO Clinton Ephron had told the inquiry a few weeks ago that Optimum had asked for the pricing agreement to be renegotiated but this was rejected by Eskom. 

When Optimum was owned by Tegeta the treatment was visibly different. 

Opperman was asked about letters written by Optimum CEO George van der Merwe who threatened that Optimum would be placed under business rescue if the issue of pricing was not sorted. Eskom entertained these threats and Opperman's boss Petrus Mazibuko decided that it would be best that Eskom not to impose an R584 million fine on Optimum coal mine as it would not make business sense.

Opperman spoke of the controversial R659 million prepayment that was paid to Tegeta before the company had even supplied coal to the power utility. 

Opperman said he was reluctant to sign a form that was placed on his desk regarding the prepayment. He said he knew after the prepayment was paid and was not involved in "fooling Eskom's system" to force the payment through. 

He said this was not a regular feature of how he made coal payments and he was very uncomfortable with signing and he spoke to Mazibuko. He said after supporting documents were provided to him he decided to sign off on the prepayment. 

On Tuesday, Snehal Nagar, an Eskom employee for its primary division,  told the inquiry how he and his colleagues had helped "fool the system" at Eskom in order to quickly prepay R659 million to Gupta owned Tegeta for coal it had yet to deliver. 

Nagar said on April 13, 2016, while he was on his way to Pretoria he got a call from a Maya Naidoo, general manager at Eskom finance division. Naidoo instructed Nagar to ensure that an R659 million payment was made within two to three hours. 

"What the team did was they amended a purchase order of the Brakfontein contract to reflect an order of R659m. The payment to Tegeta was effected on the Brakfontein contract," Nagar said.

The inquiry resumes on Monday. 

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